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Meet The Trustee

Viewers of last week's CNN Republican debate in Florida were introduced to a new figure about whom we will surely be hearing more this year: Mitt Romney's "trustee." Romney referred to him four times in response to questions about his just-released 2010 tax returns -- never in person but instead as "my trustee," a word that rolls off Romney's lips as "my barber" or "my car guy" rolls off the lips of most Americans.

Well, today the Boston Globe introduced us to this mysterious figure. R. Bradford Malt (great name for a trustee!) is the chairman of Boston's largest law firm, Ropes & Gray, the son of a surgeon who oversaw the first reattachment of a human limb, and he goes way back with Romney. As the Globe recounts, Malt, who specializes in private equity deals, was "at his weekend home in New Hampshire" in 1990 when Romney reached him for help in rescuing Bain & Co., the consulting company from which Bain Capital was spun off, from bankruptcy. Malt rushed back to Boston late at night and got the job done.  A few years later, Romney asked Malt, who was also doing work for Bain Capital, to oversee several family trusts, and a few years after that, Romney again turned to Malt to successfully make the case prior to the 2002 gubernatorial race that he had retained Massachusetts residency during his stint running the Utah Olympics. The Globe quotes a nice 1994 line of Romney's: “Brad could take out your liver, if he needed to save your life, and you’d never even know it.’’

Well, Malt hasn't removed any life-threatening organs from Romney, but he has removed some campaign-threatening assets from his vast financial holdings, including his $3 million Swiss bank account. Not that Malt thinks that people had any reason to get worked up about the account: “It’s actually kind of crazy,’’ Malt told the Globe. “This is a fully legitimate, fully reported account that pays every penny of taxes.’’

As it happens, high-class origins, a Harvard degree and a remarkable tone-deafness about public perceptions of extreme wealth are not the only things Romney and Malt share. We already know about Romney's fondness for pranks -- staging a fancy-dress dinner in the median of a busy thoroughfare, staging a fake police arrest of two friends and their dates. Well, he's found himself a match in Malt:

In the office, Malt is known for his pranks. Recently, for example, he secretly changed the bland ring tone on a senior partner’s cellphone to a bolder rock song, “Rockstar’’ by the Canadian group Nickelback, and then proceeded to dial the phone during a large meeting.
Said Julie Jones, a Ropes partner: “He is the original Ashton Kutcher of Ropes & Gray.’’

Here's another good prank Malt and Romney could pull off together: Have Romney invest heavily in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and then turn around and start bashing those GSEs, and Newt Gingrich's role in working for them. Then, when he's called on his investments, have him claim that he didn't know about them because they were in Malt's formal blind trust. Except they weren't! Romney knew about them. Hilarious!